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Online dating has never been more popular. 35 percent of relationships now start online, and over half of the single US adult population is dating online. Before you can tap into this wellspring of singles however, you have to overcome the hurdle of figuring out how to write an online dating profile.

Since most of us have trouble writing about ourselves, putting together an online dating profile is pretty high up on most people’s lists of things they hate doing. The task of writing a killer profile is daunting – because it can be time-consuming, depending on what site or app you are using. And at the end of it all, you don’t even know if you’re doing it right or if it will pay off.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by online dating and need some guidance on how to write the perfect profile, look no further. Here are our 4 essential rules:

1. Online Dating Picture Tips

The unfortunate truth is that many people will judge whether or not they want to read your profile within the fraction of a second of looking at your profile picture. This applies not only to apps like Tinder, but also sites like OKCupid or eHarmony. If you’re a man, having a solid first photo can really set you apart from the pack. If you’re a woman and you are having trouble getting matches with men you like, it may be worth re-examining your profile picture.

As a general rule, women tend to have higher quality and more flattering photos on their profiles than men do, so the competition to catch the eye of a partner may be stiffer. Regardless of gender, here is some advice on how to craft the picture section of your profile:

  1. Your profile picture should be a flattering headshot. According to social scientists that study online dating, people find photos of the subject looking right at the camera to be the most attractive, so don’t choose a photo where you’re looking away. It’s also a good idea for this photo to show you smiling with your teeth showing (which is another scientifically-based way to appear more attractive). Bonus points for a high resolution, well-lit photo. Avoid sunglasses or selfies for your profile pic.
  2. Limit your total number of photos to 5 or 6. This should include your profile picture, a full-body shot, a picture with some friends (preferably with you in the middle of the pack), an “action shot” of you doing something you enjoy (can be anything from cycling to playing board games), a “personality shot” to show off your personal flair, and 1 or 2 other photos that tell the viewer something about you.
  3. Research says that if you’re a man, ditch the selfies. If you’re a woman, they are acceptable, but make sure you mix it up with non-selfie images; all selfies can come across as narcissistic.
  4. Don’t have more than one “awwww” photo (e.g., photos of your puppy, cat, or you holding a baby). One is fine, but more than that and potential matches may start to wonder why you’re posting photos of kittens and not yourself.
  5. Make sure your photos are RECENT. This means within the last year. No one wants to show up for a first date and not be able to recognize the other person because the photos are too old. Represent yourself as you are now. If you must show an old photo,  make sure the age is disclosed in a caption or something of that nature.

2. Online Dating Usernames

If you are using a dating service that requires you to have a username, there are a few pointers to take into consideration. First, it may behoove you to choose a username that starts with a letter in the first half of the alphabet. Many platforms will display matches to users in alphabetical order. Choosing a username that starts with A through M will increase your likelihood of being seen in some instances.

The other thing to know about usernames: studies have shown hetero men tend to click more often on female profiles when usernames include a word that alludes to physical attractiveness, such as the words “cute” or “sexy.” In contrast, hetero women tend to be attracted to males who use words that make them sound successful or cultured, such as “driven.”

3. Online Dating About Me Section

The dreaded “About Me” section is the bane of many a person’s existence when it comes to how to write an online dating profile. The easiest way to approach this section is to take the pressure off yourself to come across as unique or creative. Instead just focus on being YOU. Start off by including basic information such as your age, job, hobbies, education, kids or no kids. Then add whether you’re looking for a life partner, just a date, a baby momma, etc. Simple as that!

If you want to get the right match, the best thing you can do is to be honest about who you are and what you are looking for. While it may seem scary to be that vulnerable in an online dating profile – and yes, it may reduce the number of hits or matches you get – in the long run, it will maximize the odds of you finding the right match. Online dating is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re looking for more than just a hookup, it’s a game of quality, not quantity – and that can take some time.

Studies show that in order to optimize the appeal of your profile, it’s best to spend about 70% of it talking about yourself, and the other 30% talking about what you’re looking for in the other person. When talking about what you want in the other person, keep your phrasing positive. In other words, don’t talk about what you DON’T want in a partner, as that can come across as negative and limits your matches even if they fit your parameters otherwise.

Also, try to avoid using too many adjectives. If you find yourself with a list of words talking about how kind, funny, sweet, humorous, adventurous, and creative you are – delete it. Lists of adjectives aren’t very helpful online because these words can mean different things to different people. Adventurous for one person may mean going to a concert while for another it may mean base jumping! Instead of relying on adjectives, show people that you are these things by giving examples, and be specific.

4. Online Dating Profile Examples

The main job of your online dating profile is to be a conversation starter for potential matches out there. If you don’t give people much information about you, they are less likely to reach out and message you. When you are specific about your interests, hobbies, and passions, you give viewers something to relate to and/or be curious about.

Still feel like your profile needs more beefing up in terms of content? Here are some prompts to help you write a dating profile:

  • How do you spend most time outside of work?
  • What would you like to do more often?
  • What are your short-term goals for this year?
  • Where would you like to go, or what would you like to do for your next vacation?

Final Thoughts

If you want to maximize your chances of finding someone online, there’s no substitute for putting in the time to finish filling out your profile – and don’t leave blanks. It signals to potential matches that you are serious about finding someone. Also, make sure you spell check and use the proper versions of ‘your’ and ‘you’re,’ as well as ‘their,’ ‘they’re,’ and ‘there.’

Finally – while it can be tempting to use lots of different platforms, try limiting yourself to only two at a time. You’ll avoid burnout and keep you focused on the connections you’ve made. The last thing you want is to be spread too thin and make a good match feel neglected! If a certain platform isn’t working for you after about a month, it may be time to try a new one.

How a Sex Coach Can Help

Many sex coaches, and especially dating coaches, can teach their clients how to write an online dating profile to get the best results. You can attempt to write your own profile, and run the draft past your coach. Alternatively, you can hire a dating coach to write your dating profile for you. Dating coaches can also help draft initial contact emails and chats so you can get a good idea of how to initiate and respond to connections.

Need more hints? Take a peek at these 11 Results from Studies about Online Dating, or brush up on How To Be Intimate from our Relationship Advice section.